And so, with hope in our hearts, stars in our eyes, and cholesterol in our arteries, we begin another week of navigation through the increasingly choppy waters of the MasterChef ocean, and yet we cannot help but feel a sense of hollowness as the show proceeds without TK, her elimination last week marking the exact point at which life stopped meaning anything.
But nevertheless, we must press on, no matter how pointless and blighted the world is, and so on this gloomy Sunday evening we find ourselves asking the big question to arise from this season: isn't 7.33 a strange time for a show to start?
Nevertheless, that is when it does start, and it is at that time that we are handily reminded of what the winner of this year's series will win, and of how well Sam can handle his meat. At the start of the show, the amateurs are kicking back at home. Audra lays out some photos of her children and weeps at the thought that she left them behind in return for the privilege of helping Mindy beat her in the competition. Dalvinder also misses her kids, while Sam misses his girlfriend, which seems a bit shallow.
No time to dwell on the important things though – it's off to the kitchen! In the kitchen, they are confronted by an array of enormous boxes, and Matt Preston in a suit made from finest demon-skin. Gary asks the amateurs how it feels to have been in the contest for four weeks, and the contestants, who have just been moping around missing their families, call out "AWESOME" in what is simply a vicious and repellent lie.
(A thought: It'd be really freaky if by some chance the day on which all the contestants were thinking about their loved ones and their home lives was also the day on which they had to do a challenge which related to that in some way, wouldn't it? Unlikely, but still.)
Gary notes how well the women are doing in comparison to the men, his shamelessly gendered language marking a low point in the show so far. Filippo tells Gary he has "a surprise" in store, and we must assume from his facial expression that it involves a boning knife.
The amateurs open their mystery boxes, which contain a bottle of white rum and the sort of ingredients that a person who had just drunk a bottle of white rum might put together. Their job is to make up, you know, whatever, I guess. Immediately they all disappoint Gary by putting pork into pans, like some kind of ... chef (spit), and Matt expresses doubt as to whether the fellas "have game", his upbringing in the projects of Harlem shining through yet again.
Emma surely has game though, as she begins to make a pineapple cake with rum cream and strands of fraying beanie. Less comfortable is Amina, who is cooking pork, despite her faith. Gary thinks this is very brave of her, while George shrugs in a manner suggestive of his contempt for her abandonment of her religious ideals.
Up the back, meanwhile, Sam has as usual set fire to the kitchen. Elsewhere, Audra is making sweet and sour pork, in an attempt to send a powerful message to her husband about what a loser he is. Dalvinder is also making sweet and sour pork, because of her mother or something, one of those stories that people tell on this show.
We now cut to a close-up of Western Star butter, for no special reason. We then cut to Andy, who declares "It's time to get the crackle out" in his best sex-offender voice, and proceeds to severely burn his hand, just like a real chef.
With ten seconds to go, the pressure is on, as the amateurs work frantically to restrain themselves from hurling boiling fat at George. And then time is up, and the poor deluded fools celebrate – Amina is particularly proud that she's "just cooked pork", though she then says "I don't know if it's cooked", so maybe your pride is a little premature, yeah?
It is now time for an ad for Bikie Wars, a sobering reminder of less civilised times, when people settled their differences with gunfire instead of cooking.
Back in the kitchen, it is time for the judges to select the three dishes for tasting on the basis of factors completely irrelevant to the cooking process. Gary is relieved that nobody cooked marshmallows and pork, because Gary is a some kind of nut. He then reiterates his viciously misandristic view on the innate superiority of the female sex, and Dalvinder and Audra are brought forward on a purely chromosomal basis. Amazingly, though, the third one up is Beau, who despite his testicles, has cooked something that apparently looks OK.
First for tasting is Audra, whose sweet and sour pork looks fine, but who has apparently only been able to find a giant's plate to put it on. "You've reached into that box and plucked out flavours that go well together," says Matt, which means Audra will immediately be disqualified due to the show's strict No Flavour-Plucking rule.
"Why am I gonna love this dish?" asks George. "Because I cooked it," says Dalvinder, who has apparently not received the "nobody likes a smartarse" memo. George loves Dal's dish, and slyly hints to Audra that she and Dal should wrestle each other.
Beau, meanwhile, has made a crumbed pork cutlet, because he's a real avant-garde think-outside-the-box arthousey kinda guy. Matt notes that Beau has made a Beau-dish, but continues to polish what he does, so unfortunately he is also disqualified, as the use of polish is banned on medical grounds.
It's a difficult decision, as all three have made excellent dishes, but difficult decisions are at the core of life, whether it be which pork was the tastiest, or which ingredient to choose for the invention test, or which child one must abandon to the Nazis. Life is like that, and MasterChef is no different. But anyway, Dalvinder is the winner, and she reacts by doing a little dance, and EVERYONE IN THE KITCHEN then does the same dance, which means either the producers are over-choreographing this show, or they've picked an unusually stupid and annoying group of amateurs. "You've cooked something that makes us think everything in the world is all right," says Matt, callously ignoring the myriad atrocities across the globe.
The theme for the invention test is "seduction", the contestants challenged to produce their best culinary representation of the creepy voices that MasterChef judges do when talking about seduction. As the seductive ingredients are unveiled, they prove to be so sexy they set fire to everything.
Not even the MasterChef fireball burns as painfully as the pain in Andrew Gaze's back! Thank God for Voltaren!
In time, of course, we return to the kitchen, where George whips off the covers to reveal: strawberries and cream; champagne and caviar; and roses and chocolate. Dalvinder is torn: she reveals that she has never eaten caviar, and so Gary instantly begins bullying her by forcing her to eat the disgusting muck.
Dalvinder's advantage is that everyone else must choose one pair of ingredients, while she is allowed to cook with whatever she wants to, up to and including her competitors' children. Andy’s advantage is that he gets to sit out the challenge because of his burnt hand. Everyone else curses the gods for not burning their hands as well.
Julia has chosen roses and chocolate, because she was sick the day at school when they taught everyone that flowers aren't food. Gary and George do a hilarious Two Ronnies-esque fat joke, and we move on to Filippo, who is cooking for his kids. Filippo's kids sit at home, vowing to never speak to their father again if he screws this up. Then Sam, who is cooking with champagne and caviar, in honour of his girlfriend, who has expensive and revolting tastes.
Gary doesn't want to see kitsch food, which is bad news for those amateurs who are baking Barry Manilow pies. What George loves about the challenge is that there are no consequences – he has finally understood the essentially futile nature of existence, and the absence of free will from the human condition.
In accordance with the theme of seduction, Ben decided to burn his dish, as he likes to seduce women by setting them on fire. But burning is of course a major theme of all MasterChef episodes, as we are swiftly reminded in the flaming lead-in to another reminder of just why we stopped watching Tim Allen fifteen years ago.
Back in the kitchen, Gary demands that the amateurs "tempt us, tantalise us and make us tingle all over", suddenly forcing everyone to add vomit to the menu. Speaking of vomit, it's over to Alice, who is making caviar and oyster shooters, in tribute to her ancestors, who were constantly nauseous. She then confesses to being a Soviet, which seems alarming – should she really be allowed on our screens? There could be a listening device in her glasses. We can only briefly muse upon Alice's insistence on continuing the Cold War, because the judges now drop by Kylie's bench to rub her loneliness in her face. They then convene to urgently tell each other things they already know, and Andy gleefully yells times out from his elevated infirmary.
It quickly becomes apparent that Beau has made something of a faux pas by forgetting the caviar – will his failure to include the ingredient he had to include cost him? It freaking well better.
Tasting time, and first up is Dalvinder, who has made a chocolate cake – oh how inventive. Her cake is lovely, but not delicious – she should have put more oysters in.
Next is Filippo, who has made a meringue cake with strawberries and cream and a side of heart-warming note from daughter. Gary finds the cake "creamy and coconutty and beautiful and irresistible with that story". The other amateurs frantically begin forging their own daughters' notes to present. George finds the cake extremely seductive, which seems a bit wrong after the whole "daughter" thing, and he and Filippo proceed to make out with each other a bit.
Audra steps forward to present her dish and assert her tight psychological grip over her husband. She sees Filippo's adorable note, and raises him a burst of homesick tears. "Your emotion when you cook is a beautiful thing," says George, but he makes clear that her food is not.
Ben steps up and admits he's not much good with seduction. Matt stops him to ask about his "beautiful girlfriend". Ben says he doesn't have a girlfriend. The room gasps. Matt comes over to cut Ben's chest open and rub some salt into the cavity. The fireball arrives, more in sorrow than in anger.
Ben might be unable to hold onto a lady, but at least he can hold onto savings with Telstra Pre-Paid! Perhaps that will help salve the wounds Preston has inflicted.
We return to the kitchen to discover that not only has MasterChef cost Ben his job, but his girlfriend left him because of it as well. Filippo's little note is looking pretty weak now, isn't it? MasterChef has clearly become a sob-story arms race, and the next one up better have a dead pet or a heroin addiction to bring up if they hope to win.
The next one up, as it happens, is Tregan, who offers only a story about how she loves her boyfriend, which is completely lame. Forget you, Tregan.
We move quickly past Beau, as the fact he's incapable of understanding instructions is all we need to know. We move equally quickly past Kylie, whose sob-story is basically the fact that she has incredibly low standards. Ben will presumably ask her out afterwards.
Then Julia, whose dish is a mess, just like her marriage, I think? I don't know, sometimes I feel these guys push too hard to find metaphors.
And now it is the turn of Sam, who has made some horrible seafood thing. "Sam, welcome to the competition," says Matt, before being rushed to the head trauma unit for an MRI to discover why he is suffering such catastrophic memory loss. Sam has been there for WEEKS!
Next up is Mindy, who is lonely after the end of a relationship AND crying – Kylie, Ben and Audra are such amateurs. Matt points out to her how great food is for helping you ignore your problems, and that at least her solace comes in champagne and caviar. Though one could also point out that it's not Mindy who actually gets to eat the stuff. Matt finds her dish unimpressive, but the important thing about the dish is that she learnt to love herself. Shortly before learning to hate herself again because Matt found her dish unimpressive.
It's nearly time to find out who wins, but of course it's important to take just a moment to remind ourselves of the blessing of all-day socks and hair replacement technology.
Anyway Sam has seduced them with his meal, in a hopefully-not-too-literal sense. "You blew our mind," says George, confirming the long-held suspicion that the three judges are automatons sharing a single hive-mind. Next is Filippo, even though he cheated with the note. And finally Tregan, which is ridiculous because she didn't even cry.
Tregan and Filippo, for their troubles, have won the magnificent prize of getting to step forward for five seconds and then step back again, because Sam is the winner, and apparently he is going to get a MASSIVE PRIZE.
Under a cloche, is a clue, and Matt begins to put on a pair of ominous white gloves. Just whose cavity is he going to search? He lifts the cloche, and reveals … the first cookbook ever written in Australia. Yes – Sam's prize is time travel.
Matt then embarks on a strange, rambling monologue that seems to have very little point, but in the end he gets around to revealing that they are going to Tasmania. Ben is excited to be returning, to the home which now contains only loneliness and shattered dreams. If only his girlfriend had known, she might not have left him.
At the end of the trip, Gary warns, someone will not be returning. Sam's advantage will presumably be to be informed of who the killer is.
And so we are left on tenterhooks, with only a brief teaser to hint at the Deliverance-esque nightmare which awaits them in the Tasmanian wilds, and the amateurs head off to a fitful sleep, dreaming of the families they abandoned, the lovers they lost, and the horrors they have yet to experience.
Ben is the author of Superchef – A Parody, published by Allen and Unwin.